Our little group stood huddled next to the curb amongst the throng of people. We made mindless small talk, but each of us was more engulfed in our own thoughts than any conversation. Mine included things like, "Why didn't I bring my headphones. Everyone else seems to have headphones." and "Is this race number pinned to my shirt at an odd angle? That's going to bother me..."
We had just learned that the race organizers weren't allowing our group leaders to run with us. They had been assigned to work stops along the route. This was the practice 10K. It would be the first time most of us had ever ran 6.2 consecutive miles. Everyone in our group had counted on our group leaders being there with us to set the pace and offer encouragement. Needless to say, after finding out they couldn't run with us, we were all a little distraught.
As the moments ticked down to the start of the race, a tense silence came over the crowd and all eyes turned to focus on the start line. A wave of relief came when one of our group leaders walked over and informed us that she'd be running with us after all because she hadn't been assigned to work. Knowing that she would be there helped ease our minds immensely.
Suddenly someone yelled "Start!" and the crowd surged forward! Everyone took off like a shot! I had been warned that most people start races way too fast, but I convinced myself that I would know not to do that. Despite this knowledge, I ran to keep up with the crowd. I thought we'd only keep it up for a few seconds, but runners all around continued to fly down the course. At about a quarter mile in, I checked my pace: 9'25" per mile! It was WAY too fast! I forced myself to slow down to a more comfortable pace. It was discouraging to see the crowd of runners fly past me, but I knew I couldn't keep up a 9'25" pace for 6.2 miles.
As I continued along the course, I became more comfortable. This was mostly due to the fact that the crowd of people around me had diminished, but also because I was running at my own pace. Eventually it was just me and our group leader running the course together. We started passing people. ...actually, lots of people! We passed all those people who had flown past us at the start of the race. They had worn themselves out.
A little feeling of accomplishment came over me as we passed more and more people. Even so, not wanting to rest on our laurels, we pushed forward. We were running about a minute-per-mile faster than our practice pace, but it didn't seem to bother me. It must have been all the race-day adrenalin. We walked most of the hills, since hills are apparently my downfall. Otherwise, we made up our minds to run everything! We were in the zone.
Suddenly, sooner than I was expecting, we could see the finish line. I thought I should have had nothing left since we ran the course hard. But, as if on autopilot, I began sprinting the last stretch of the race. As our group leader and I ran toward the finish line, runners that had already crossed were cheering us on. Someone was cheering for me; yelling my name! I crossed the line and realized it was our other group leader who had stayed back to work the timing station.
Standing behind the finish line, I felt so accomplished! I was the first one from my group to cross, so I stood watching and cheering on the other runners as they came in. I could tell they all felt accomplished too. A sense of camaraderie came over the crowd as everyone shared their excitement and happiness with one another.
I checked my time on a printed piece of paper that was posted at the timing station. It said I had completed the race in one hour and 8 minutes! Surprising, even though our group leaders said it was a great time, I didn't really care about it. Being able to run 6.2 miles was fulfillment enough. Although, the next day when I saw my time had been posted online at one hour and 9 minutes, I was a little disappointed... Perhaps there's a little competitive spirit in me after all.